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Amendment 13

Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill [HL] - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 10th February 2020.

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Lord Tunnicliffe:

Moved by Lord Tunnicliffe

13: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—“Responsibility for CAA airspace strategy( ) The Secretary of State is responsible for the implementation of the CAA’s airspace strategy.( ) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning on the day this Act is passed, lay before both Houses of Parliament a statement setting out progress towards the implementation of the CAA’s airspace strategy.( ) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report in similar terms covering each subsequent 12-month period, within six months of that period ending.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would make the Secretary of State responsible for the implementation of the CAA’s airspace strategy, and require related reports.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

My Lords, we come to our most important amendment. The Minister will no doubt tell me that it is unnecessary; none the less, we feel it is important. The essence of Amendment 13 is that the Secretary of State must take responsibility for this process—and it must be personal responsibility.

I have very little faith in the process. I have suffered personally from this sort of situation in delivering a large project. We set down in all the project agreements that parties must co-operate, but they did not. Technically, we had various enforcement mechanisms but these run into the courts and the courts run into delay—and you cannot afford delay. It is pretty weak. The structure requires all participants to behave benignly. Unfortunately, these organisations are in the business not of being benign but of making profits. They are large organisations owned by shareholders, and the shareholders expect profits. I am afraid that the history is not terribly good. There was a project called the London Airspace Management Programme—LAMP, the stated aim of which, according to the CAA, was

“to redesign the airspace network over the whole of London and the south-east”— not unlike the master plan. The CAA says:

“Initial plans were to consult on a complete package of network changes and 'swathes' and follow this up with airport-specific consultations, prior to a phased implementation at single, or groups of, airports. However initial design work and programming issues meant that this plan was revised so that LAMP design and consultation was to be addressed in two main phases. The first centred around London City and Gatwick (referred to as LAMP Phase 1A) and the second around Luton, Stansted and Heathrow”.

This comes from a report by the CAA; I would like to make sure that the correct document is quoted —it is in CAP 1692, on the end phase. The rest of the programme was essentially abandoned. I have just read out paragraph 23, but this is also set out in paragraph 24 and 25 et cetera. In a sense it is a sorry tale, but not one that we should be surprised about. It requires the miracle idea that individual entities in this process are able to maximise their own position and, at the same time, that of the whole. When one thinks about it logically, that is fairly improbable.

So, one looks to how we are going to do it this time. The Minister’s answer will probably quote CAP 1711b, which is the airspace modernisation governance. I hope she had more success in understanding it than I did. I got to paragraph A7, which followed a flow diagram headed “Governance structure for airspace modernisation” that I did not understand, showing the roles for delivering airspace modernisation. I thought, “Is there something tangible here?” Paragraph A7, under the heading “Airspace Strategy Board”, says:

“The Aviation Minister-chaired Airspace Strategy Board (ASB) is the first tier of the governance structure.”

I thought, “I’m there. That is where it must happen.” But the next sentence says:

“The Airspace Strategy Board is not a decision-making board, but will engage stakeholders on the policies that will govern the strategy and will advise DfT on potential changes to the overarching policy, regulatory, legal and funding framework if these are required to address delivery issues.”

So it is not decision-making, it is just a talking shop.

Then, at the next level, there is this lovely idea of co-sponsors. The Department for Transport and the CAA are going to co-sponsor this. That is great if they agree, but what if they do not? They are coming from different points of view and they may have different objectives. The idea of co-sponsorship means that you get into the blame game, and I do not find that at all reassuring. Meanwhile the Airspace Change Organisation Group can also only ask people to bring forward their plans; it cannot make plans itself.

Will this get done? I do not think it will; it will go the same way as the previous effort. To get something of this complexity done—I have been involved in issues of similar complexity—you need a single individual you can hold accountable for its success. That individual must have the appropriate authority and, because we are talking about something in common ownership—airspace—that individual must be politically accountable. The only person who meets that test is the Secretary of State. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Chair, SLSC Sub-Committee A 4:45 pm, 10th February 2020

My Lords, at the risk of being boring—I apologise if I am—I ask my noble friend again if the Ministry of Defence is part of this discussion group.

Photo of Lord Davies of Gower Lord Davies of Gower Conservative

My Lords, I cannot help but feel that this is fundamentally a bad amendment. I certainly oppose the CAA being the prime adjudicator on airspace. It should really be the other way around; the Government should set the strategy, which is then implemented by the CAA. The power of the CAA in airspace strategy should not be increased; rather, it should be constrained to act in a role to advise the Government on safety matters related to airspace. Overall, I believe that the management of modernisation should firmly rest with the Government.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, as I have said and will probably say many times during the passage of this Bill, airspace modernisation is incredibly complex. A wide range of organisations are responsible for delivering it, and it will be for the benefit of the community as a whole. I understand noble Lords’ concerns about who is ultimately responsible for delivering it. I hope I may be able to add some clarity on the exact responsibilities of the Secretary of State, the Department for Transport and the CAA with regard to airspace modernisation, because it is far from straightforward.

Under Section 66 of the Transport Act, the Secretary of State may give directions to the CAA imposing duties, conferring powers or both with regard to air navigation in a managed area. That is our first stage: the Secretary of State giving instructions or directions to the CAA. In those directions given by the Secretary of State to the CAA, the Secretary of State directed it to prepare and maintain a co-ordinated strategy and plan for UK airspace up to 2040, including modernising the use of such airspace. Again, I believe that all noble Lords will be in agreement with that, which is what has happened.

The CAA is therefore responsible for preparing the strategy, as set out in Clause 8(1), by reference to the directions. If the directions change, the strategy would then change. This is consistent with the CAA’s role as a specialist aviation regulator and its broader statutory responsibilities. The CAA meets this requirement through its airspace modernisation strategy, CAP 1711, and of course the governance of that, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, in CAP 1711b.

It is envisaged that the master plan currently being developed to identify in more detail the sort of changes that we will look for will become part of the CAA’s airspace modernisation strategy, which it has been asked to prepare by the Secretary of State. The legislation therefore makes it clear that the CAA is required by the Secretary of State to prepare and maintain the airspace strategy and to publish a report on it, and that the Secretary of State will hold the CAA accountable for this, while Parliament will hold the Secretary of State to account.

However, although that stands in all circumstances, it is not quite so straightforward, because there are responsibilities that lie elsewhere. It is important that we recognise that so, alongside the CAA and the DfT having responsibilities to co-sponsor the framework, the actual delivery cannot take place without the active participation of the industry. This precisely makes the case for the powers that we seek to take in the Bill that the Committee is discussing. We hope for the wonderful carrot world of active participation by the industry, and we have the stick of a potential direction if that does not happen. The noble Lord mentioned the previous attempt at airspace modernisation; he is absolutely right that it did not work because there were no sticks. It was therefore difficult to focus minds on reaching an agreement without the need to use a stick. It would not be beneficial for our relationship with the industry, or indeed stakeholders, to utilise the stick too readily—but, as a last resort, we would.

On the amendment’s requirement to lay a Statement in Parliament on progress against the strategy, I think I mentioned that the CAA already provides an annual report on the progress against the modernisation strategy. I therefore feel that that is probably not warranted. I hope I have clearly explained where the current roles and responsibilities lie so that there is no confusion and that, on the basis of this explanation, the noble Lord might—no, he might not.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister says that the Secretary of State now has a stick—great. It is a very blunt stick, if I may say so. Nevertheless, does that mean she accepts that if this goes wrong, and an effective airspace strategy does not emerge from the process, the Secretary of State will be responsible for that failure?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

At the end of the day, in maybe a decade’s time—I do not know how long this will take but it may well be in a decade’s time—I suspect that if this is not going according to plan, there will be questions in this House and in the other House. It will then be for the Secretary of State to answer those questions; in that respect, he has responsibility for making sure that this programme proceeds. However, as in many areas of the world that we live in, there may be circumstances that are beyond his control and are the responsibilities of others. Essentially, however, the responsibility for directing the programme lies with the Secretary of State.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank the Minister for that response and, while I will consider her words with care, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.

Clauses 6 and 7 agreed.